The Westford Academy players huddled around coach Julie Devlin Olivier before their practice session Sunday afternoon, anticipating a quote.
“What makes a dark horse shine?” asked the second-year coach.
Olivier then highlighted what her players need to focus on for the remainder of the season to be successful: ball possession, good goaltending, and smart shooting.
Westford is off to a sizzling 13-2 start, with impressive wins over Central Catholic, Wayland, and Bishop Guertin.
“We have a great group of girls who really play well together,” said the coach. “They work hard and have fun but understand that fundamentals are key, and that’s why we’ve been playing so well.”
Her players also have come to appreciate the energy that Olivier brings to each workout and game.
She will find an inspirational quote, usually from legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi or a lacrosse magazine, and have her players close their eyes while she is reading the words, and visualize how they can be successful.
On Sundays, Olivier will locate a Youtube video focusing on a fundamental aspect of the game that she feels needs attention and e-mail the link to her squad.
The quotes “get us in game mode,” said junior Bailey Mongillo, who leads the teams in scoring with 69 goals and 18 assists. “Everything clears, whether it be school or life, it’s lacrosse at that point and she really focuses us on being successful.”
Westford is certainly gearing up for the posteason in the right way: averaging roughly 16 goals per game while allowing eight from opponents. Sophomore Jenna Klinka has 30 goals and 18 assists.
“The one thing about our defense that I really respect and admire is that after every goal or every save, even when they do phenomenal [things], they’ll come back to me and say, ‘What do you see that we can do better?’,” said sophomore goalie Kalie Boyd.
“Every new play that happens, we adjust and makes things better.”
The Grey Ghosts draw inspiration from Olivier, a former standout at Dual County League rival Lincoln-Sudbury who went on to play on the first NCAA Division 1 program at Boston College in 1979.
“Just to see where she’s come from and what she did to be successful motivates us,” said Mongillo. “She is always reading something new about lacrosse, finding more ways to inspire us and keep pushing us to be better.”
Olivier is a true student of the game: She attends coaches’ clinics and reads lacrosse magazines daily.
“You can have a bad day, but the energy you bring to the field, whether it be for a practice or for a game, is what the girls feed off of, so you need to put your personal things aside to focus on the task at hand,” she said.
Olivier also gives her players “You Go Girls” index cards, noting what they did well in that particular game, while also pointing out where they need improvement.
“It definitely helps with keeping them focused and motivated,” said the coach. “But the girls are doing a great jobs. . . . There are seven or eight that score each game.”
After losing to Andover, 23-13, in last year’s Division 1 North semifinals and graduating six seniors, the Grey Ghosts are highly motivated.
“I feel like we think we have a lot to prove coming out from last year,” said Mongillo. “We’re kind of here for a payback and for revenge on those teams that beat up on us last year, so we’re definitely taking things one step at a time, but it’s definitely fueling our fire.”
“We weren’t on anyone’s radar when I was at BC and we weren’t for the most part of this season at Westford either,” said Devlin-Olivier.
Captains Courtney Martin and Taylor Freud expect a long run.
“We knew there was a lot of talent on this team who worked really hard in the offseason, so we know that every day, everyone is here to work,” said Martin.
“Consistency is the most important thing we need to look for in these next few weeks, because when we play consistently, we can compete with anyone,” added Freud.
boys thrive on it
The Beverly boys (9-2) have battled through two one-goal games, one of them a three-overtime win against Danvers, 14-13.
“Our defense is playing really well, and with a lot of seniors returning with experience on that squad, that’s what I expected,” said coach John Pynchon . “We’ve been playing well in tight situations and in the Danvers game, I thought our guys played better in those overtimes than during the third and fourth quarters.”
Senior goalie Jimmy Chase has been the anchor of a Panthers’ defense that is allowing just six goals per game.
“When he’s on his game, we can compete with anyone,” said Pynchon.
Beverly suffered its two losses to St. John’s Prep (12-9) and Winchester (7-5). Pynchon likes where his team is right now, but realizes there is work ahead.
“We definitely need to improve on the consistency of good shots taken,” said the coach. “But with a lot of leadership, our guys know what needs to be done to play better at higher levels.”
Ryan MacInnis can be reached at email@example.com.